Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Even Taft will bend a little to make a bet

Inside Ohio's Capital

By Debra Jasper and Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus bureau

Even Gov. Bob Taft can't resist betting on football.

Last year Taft bet Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that the Buckeyes would beat the Miami Hurricanes in the national championship game. The Buckeyes pulled off an upset, and Bush had to spend some quality time wearing a scarlet and gray jersey.

Last week, Taft bet Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius that Ohio State would beat the Kansas State Wildcats in the Fiesta Bowl. The loser has to travel to the winner's state and serve meals at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. The idea is to emphasize the importance of volunteering.

This social-service wager helps underline the governor's vague stand on the gambling issue.

Taft has personally killed at least three serious attempts by lawmakers to put slot machines at Ohio racetracks.

On the other hand, he supported a different gambling proposal that let Ohio join the Mega Millions multistate lottery game. The moved helped revive Ohio Lottery ticket sales over the objections of antigambling groups.

ISSUE 1 MONEY: The political action committee that Taft set up to run his failed Issue 1 campaign recently reported a balance of about $400,000.

The governor collected more than $3.2 million, mostly from corporations, to pay for campaign commercials that urged voters to let the state borrow up to $500 million over the next 10 years. The funds would have been used to help create new high tech businesses and jobs for Ohio.

Voters rejected the issue with nearly 51 percent opposed.

Now the question is what Taft will do with the $400,000 he has left. It could be used to fight Secretary of State Ken Blackwell's effort to repeal the state's temporary penny-on-the-dollar sales tax increase.

Last week, Blackwell filed 157,000 signatures on petitions asking lawmakers to repeal the tax now, instead of letting it expire June 30, 2005. If they don't act, Blackwell says he'll start another petition drive to put the repeal before voters this November.

Taft calls the repeal "reckless and irresponsible," because it would require $650 million to $800 million in budget cuts. Taft says he hasn't given any thought to the leftover Issue 1 funds.

"I don't know what we'll do in the future," Taft said. "If (the repeal) is on the ballot I'll be opposed to it, but at this point I think it's too early to say it will get there."

Blackwell already thinks that he's going to be taking his fight to the voters.

"I think they are going to force us to put this on the ballot," he said.


Debra Jasper (djasper@enquirer.com) and Spencer Hunt (shunt@enquirer.com) cover the Statehouse.

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